Design for Social Justice, Ninety Minutes at a time, at the Berkeley Social Justice Symposium
Reflex Design Collective, a cadre of alumni and current Berkeley graduate students, had the chance to support the Social Justice Symposium. We found a lot of communities with varying experiences; some with their work deeply involved in various community issues, some with a large amount of user experience and design thinking backgrounds, and some with a little of both.
To prototype our work, and to ensure that we choose a topic that everyone is interested in, and can in some way, contribute to, we decided to focus upon the topic of environmental racism. We gave a brief summary into the different mindsets of design thinking, and think about how the methods can be used to address complex political and social issues of the day.
We argue, as a collective, that current ways designers frame and use innovation are not enough. To address problems with political issues, they must consider their politics and place themselves. To do so, we add on a couple of mindsets which help designers better consider their politics.
First, we suggest that designers “Reflect”, or develop a space for those in the room to cultivate a critical awareness of how who they are, changes how they act.
Examples of methods which do so include the Identity Wheel, where you can meditate on which parts of you hold privilege or experience oppression. How do you see yourself? How do others see you? How do these identities manifest, and interact, and how do they influence how you design?
Secondly, we illustrate opportunities to “Contextualize”, or help the participants think about what ways systems, history, or institutions impact the problems we consider important.
An example method which does this well we call “Find Your Roots.” First, we ask the participants to tell a story that matters to them. Then, we ask them to find out what realities, institutions, or oppressive structures ‘contribute’ to that story? What is the ‘root’ of that pain? Then we ask what outcomes, or experiences, sprout from that pain? How does it affect you? How does it affect the people you care about?
Also, we illustrate opportunities to “Democratize,” or investigate ways that power can be deferred by bringing those with the least power and the most to lose by complex problems into the room. Examples of methods which do so include the 2x2 Stakeholder Diagram, which gives us two spectra that stakeholders can be organized upon.
By investigating who has power, and who is influenced, one can work to learn whose experiences are valued, and who should be a part of the decision-making process endemic to design.
We then have the opportunity to take people through brainstorming, categorizing, and prototyping workshops. By crafting questions about Environmental Racism and how it appears in certain contexts, like in schools, in the home, or in our everyday lives, the participants have an opportunity to think about and develop first-blush ideas about how these issues might be addressed.
One issue we with these short workshops: these workshops don’t have the requisite time to truly flesh out design methods and develop solutions. Many people ask if there’s a way to continue the practice further, and we agree space should be made. However, we also appreciate how the short workshops elicit interest the way they do: first, comes an interest in the field, then trust in its capacities, then use and further implementation.
We’d love to know how design for equity can help with your issues!
- When aiming to use design thinking for social justice, what skills apply? Which do not? Which skills are lacking?
- How can we best develop a space to interact, critique, and make solutions to issues of environmental justice or abroad?
- How are you interested in working together?
We hope you can join in the work soon! It is never done, and it needs all of us to work well.